AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

July 23, 2013

Swift idea taking flight at GCC

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — The Bartramian Audubon Society, a member of the Harrisville Boy Scouts and Grove City College will collaborate to rescue "flying cigars."

"We're very excited about it," said Cathy Setzer, Liberty Township, the special project coordinator with the BAS.

The college has been "very supportive," she added.

GCC recently approved the BAS's request for a sanctuary - essentially a pseudo chimney - for chimney swifts in its Wolf Creek Nature Trail, next to the field house, according to Tom Gregg, vice president of operations.

The cigar-shaped birds have traditionally lived in old-fashioned chimneys; roosting on the sides of the flue, as they are unable to perch like regular birds. Modern construction, like lining the chimneys, has put the birds in danger.

Ironically, the college will displace the birds, which reside across East Main Street from campus at the former Grove City Middle School.

The old middle school has sat empty for two years since the district moved its students and staff to a new building. GCC recently made an offer to purchase the school for $50,000 - which is still pending - and plans to use it for school programs.

However, the college will eventually raze the old school to make a parking lot for students in GCC's Colonial Hall Apartments on the lower campus - and the birds will need a new home.

Sharon Thompson, a Grove City animal lover, first brought the chimney swifts to light when Grove City school directors talked about what to do with the old middle school, and brought up the possibility of tearing it down, two years ago.

"Sharon's counted them, and have seen over 100," Setzer said.

Thompson gave the district superintendent a lesson about the birds' habitat, and how important they are to the ecosystem.

"They are large mosquito eaters. They eat bad bugs; it's one of the benefits of chimney swifts. The wetlands (in the nature trail) are a good place for mosquitoes," Setzer said.

Thompson also visited the BAS about what a fix the birds may face in the future if the middle school building was razed.

"She came to one of our board meetings. We looked at options," said Setzer, who then obtained a grant through the Pennsylvania Audubon Society for $1,000 that was approved in early 2012.

The PAS "gives grants for projects like this; that will benefit bird habitat or anything environmental in our region," she said. The BAS covers Mercer, Lawrence, Venango and Crawford counties.

For the swift sanctuary, "The natural location seemed to be the college," Setzer said. "We'd like to keep them (in Grove City) because they're there for a reason."

The tower will be three-cubic-feet, and 8-to-12 feet high, she said, and GCC will provide the concrete pad for the design.

Much of the construction will be done off-site, until the concrete is ready to be poured, Setzer said.

The BAS is also collaborating on the project with John Relihan, 14, of Concord, a member of Boy Scout Troop 380 in Harrisville, for his Eagle Scout project.

The collaboration was suggested by Setzer's accountant, whose husband is the director of Camp Bucoco, outside of Slippery Rock. Seltzer spoke to him about John, and Harrisville Scout Master Todd Stevenson, who is a member of the BAS, will help oversee the project.

"I never paid much attention to birds, other than, 'Look, they're flying,'" John said. "I've learned a lot. What fascinates me is (the chimney swifts) build a nest on a vertical wall; basically sticks and grass and they spit on it and it sticks to the wall."

The teen, who will be in 9th grade at Moniteau schools, is young for an Eagle Scout. He'll still need four more merit badges - making 21 total - to officially receive the award after the chimney project is completed, he said.

"When the project came up, I thought to do it now, and in the fall I can worry about the merit badges," added John, who has been with the Scouts since he was 6 years old.

"It surprises me that I'm already at Eagle Scout. I think (the Scouts) are a good program, and I'd recommend it to anyone," said John, who would like to become a master plumber like his father, and take over the family business one day.

He's been able to get most of the materials needed for the chimney tower project through donations "by local stores," he said.

"With the Scouts and donors, it's more of a community educational project," Setzer added. And with the extra funds with the $1,000 PAS grant, "and we can make the chimney tower fancier," she noted.

The tower will be surrounded by an educational kiosk with four panels "with information on chimney swifts and acknowledge the Audubon Society and donors involved," Setzer said. "It will be vertical and framed under Plexiglas or glass with wood posts."

Her business, a bird sanctuary in Slippery Rock Township, will be donating the shingled roofs to help preserve the kiosks, she said.

Building a basic chimney would have cost $750 to $1,000; the kiosk hikes that amount from $1,200 to $1,300, Setzer said. However, that was more appealing to the college, as an educational institution, she added.

John and the BAS have been using written and video information by www.chimneyswifts.org about how to build a sanctuary for the birds. When the GCC sanctuary is completed, it will be put in the website's database.

"There's quite a few of these in the Pittsburgh area," Setzer said, but this is a first-time chimney swifts tower project for the BAS.

"I've helped previous Eagle Scouts, but I've never done anything like this," John said. "It's been pretty rough; I've been like the project manager, but it shows me that I have responsibility. It makes me feel that sort of like I'm dependable and make me a better adult in the future."

"If all goes well, we're looking at the middle of August to begin," Setzer said. The BAS and supporters still need to meet with the college to finalize the location of sanctuary on the nature trail - and how it will look on the outside, Setzer noted.

"It will be sided," she said. The college wants the tower to have Hardiplank siding, Setzer said. "It's synthetic but looks like wood. It weathers a very long time. We'll put something in the inside that the chimney swifts can adhere to."

Constructing the sanctuary "definitely feels important," John said. "It makes me feel glad to do this, so the birds do have another habitat."

Setzer hopes the chimney swifts from the middle school will find the sanctuary at the nature trail, and college students can study them, she said. She also hopes to bring the birds to the community's attention "so people may want build one in their backyard or other locations," she added.

"It all started with this little school chimney and it's blossomed from there."

Published July 13, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.